These are all approaches to the parable we usually call The Prodigal Son. However, each provides a different set of insights and today we will look at the story from the Father’s perspective.
Three Parables of Lost and Found Treasures
Luke chapter 15 reports three different stories Jesus told about lost things that are recovered. Here are the first two,
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents [changes his mind] than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
These stories are for the benefit of the Pharisees who looked down on those they considered ‘sinners’ and therefore unworthy even of association. Notice they muttered about Jesus that, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus demonstrated the Father’s alternate perspective on ‘sinners’–they are extremely valuable to him. Jesus compares them to a valuable lost sheep or a valuable lost coin. And they matter even though there are many other sheep or coins that are not lost, and finding the lost treasure is an occasion for rejoicing. Each lost ‘sinner’ matters individually.
Focus on the Father
Then Jesus tells his third story. It does not begin ‘There was a son…’ or ‘There was a brother…’ Instead it begins, ‘There was a man who had two sons.’ One son (representing the Pharisees) was loyal to his father while the other (representing the ‘sinners’) squandered his father’s property.
When the wayward son returned home, the Father was so joyous that he threw a banquet in his honor, but the older brother was resentful that his father treated his delinquent brother so well.
The Father replies,
‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
Again, Jesus portrays the ‘sinner’ as a valuable treasure that has been lost and found. Notice that the Father doesn’t love the wayward son because he came home; he loved him all the while he was behaving badly.
The father celebrated that his son was no longer lost, but not because his son was no longer going to burn in hell forever, as we sometimes assume; this idea is baggage that we add to the story. He celebrated because of the restored relationship.
How Does this Story Apply to Us?
Sometimes, we behave like the wayward son and the good news is that the Father is not angry with us or waiting to punish us for our insolent behavior; rather he just wants the best for us. He is waiting for reconciliation so that he can rejoice and throw us a party because of our renewed relationship.
Jesus often chastises the Pharisees for the way they behave toward ‘sinners’, and we believers are often much like the Pharisees. But the good news is that the Father loves us Pharisees just as much as the ‘sinners’ and wants a living relationship with us. Let us all evaluate our behavior—sinner or Pharisee—in the light of the Parable of the Joyous Father.